Who'd have thought that cellphone courtesy warrants not just a holiday, but an entire month? We can thank Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert from Palm Beach, Florida for founding National Cellphone Courtesy month in 2002.
But this season in celebration of one of the most intrusive devices in history is perhaps even more applicable today. Cell phones aren't new, but their abuses are rampant according to customer service expert Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor. So in honor of the season, Friedman has shared her thoughts with me on the top "dirty dozen" debaucheries of cell phone abuse.
1. Don't abuse public areas.
Taking calls in restaurants, during live theater, seminars, movie theaters or in other public areas is a sure way to annoy others. Keep your ringer off. When the phone vibrates with a call you simply "must" answer, take your call to a private area or text a note that you'll reply later. In business, if you absolutely must leave a meeting to take a call, do it with respect and courtesy. For example, my own colleagues will never forget the former employee (emphasis on former) who walked out of a meeting with our chairman with no remark or apology to take a personal call.
2. There's no need to shout.
It's human nature, but most cell phone users are unaware of the way their volume rises when they talk on the phone. Be aware of this, and remember that you you don't need to shout. If you do--due to a bad connection, etc., go to a quiet location or at a minimum be sure to cover your mouth. Another important note in business communication--be aware of who is overhearing your call. A major publication famously learned of an acquisition about to happen by overhearing the CEO blaring into his cell phone from the rental car shuttle at the Logan airport. Don't let this tragedy happen to you.
3. Don't talk and drive unless you're on a hands-free device.
If you must talk while driving, it is still critical that you put both hands on the wheel. Several states now have laws that prohibit talking on the phone while driving unless you are using "hands free." Regardless, distracted driving is dangerous. You cannot do two things well at once.
4. Don't show off.
Big deal; you've got the newest model of phone. Some folks look as though their head is on a spindle to ensure everyone within range is seeing their phone.
5. Don't take a call during an interview.
Friedman recalls the day she was interviewing a job applicant when the young woman's phone rang. Unbelievably, she answered the call. When you go into a meeting, don't touch the phone unless it's to divert the call and to be sure the ringer is off (and do apologize if this happens). Do not text during meetings. Many an employee has earned negative points by forgetting that when the phone "pings," people's heads instinctively turn, making them privy in many cases to whatever you've typed on the phone.
6. Funerals or solemn occasions.
Yes, sadly, some people leave their phones on during events as solemn as a funeral, a speech or a graduation. In our own city, an industry gala featured Apple CEO Tim Cook. As he spoke, the room was silent with anticipation (except for the young woman who'd come as a guest of the musical entertainer and was chatting away on her phone).
Many of the calls we hear from airplanes are useless: "Hi, I'm on the plane. We're about to take off. I'll let you know when I land." Then, 2-3 hours later, "Hi, we landed." Could this conversation not have waited or been handled by text? The exception to this rule is when your plane is stuck on the tarmac. Your phone may be a lifeline to other passengers who may need to let someone know about the delay.
8. Public bathrooms.
The ladies' room does not need to hear the family conversation occurring from inside of your stall. If the communication is truly an emergency, simply text.
9. Blue Tooth headphones.
These unseemly devices allow you to talk without holding the phone, but in any situation other than driving create a distraction for everyone around you as they try to figure out if you're talking to yourself or to them.
This small area will magnify your conversation to the captive audience who can neither ignore you nor get away. Worse still, the risk of gaffes such as complaining about a person who is standing behind you is substantially compounded when you're committing this sin.
11. Hair salons.
While she may not say anything, your stylist is not able to work around your phone. Give it a break. Not only is it courteous to put the phone down, you'll be glad when you see the finished hairstyle that you waited until after your appointment to take the unavoidable call.
12. At work.
Be considerate of others. Give your job your undivided attention and give your co-workers the respect of not being distracted by your personal calls. Wait until your break, your lunch hour or after work to use your cell phone. Some lines of work, such as law enforcement, require immediate availability on cell. But for all other situations, leave the work time access alone.
Above all, when using a cell phone remember the Golden Rule: Use the behavior with your phone that you'd appreciate from others as well.